the plan of civilising the Indians is undoubtedly a great improvement on the antient & totally ineffectual one of beginning with religious missionaries. our experience has shewn that this must be the last step of the process. the following is what has been succesful. 1. to raise cattle Etc & thereby acquire a knolege of the value of property 2. arithmetic to calculate that value. 3. writing, to keep accounts and here they begin to inclose farms, & the men to labor, the women to spin & weave. 4. to read. Aesop’s fables & Robinson Crusoe are their first delight. the Creeks & Cherokees are advanced thus far, & the Cherokees are now instituting a regular government.
To James Jay, April 7, 1809
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Lasting progess in a society happens slowly and methodically.
These steps help transition an unrooted society to a stable, well-grounded one.
1. Ownership of something that conveys a sense of value
2. Math skills to quantify that value
3. Writing skills to record that value
4. Enclosing one’s land with fences (again, ownership)
5. A proper assignment of work, men for hard tasks, women for easier ones
6. Reading, beginning with adventure and morality tales
7. Finally, training from “religious missionaries”
While Jefferson’s plan was for “civilizing” the Indians, it could apply to any undeveloped society. He cited two tribes that had advanced by this plan. Of the two, the Cherokees were already establishing “a regular government.” (Interesting side note: Some of the Cherokees had become prosperous enough that they owned African slaves.)
That plan may have been successful for some Indians but not for all. Jefferson greatly underestimated the Indians’ desire (or ability) to make societal change.